Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sport mad Australian Culture

To take a break from complaining about the Sydney Diocese, I will turn to another beef I have with living in Australia. Last night on the 7.30 Report there was an interview with Steve Davislim, a promising young tenor from Melbourne, who although little known in his home country, is a rising star on the international stage. Part of the interview
"These days he lives in splendour in Vienna as Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert once did. World capital of classical music, the Viennese know a talented tenor when they hear one.

STEVE DAVISLIM: I can hop in a taxi and they say, "What did you sing last night?" I mean, it's part of their culture. Their national orchestra is one of their national icons. The Vienna Philharmonic is, they have their own plane, you know, with the logo emblazoned on the tail. It's a different mindset. I think here is sport, sport, sport and there's some music somewhere, and I hope that changes at some point. That's part of the reason why, in a way, I'm in exile."

I really know what he means. In 2000, when Sydney hosted the Olympics, I went to Central Europe and attended the Opera in Vienna. In April I am returning to Vienna and as soon as my plane tickets were confirmed I booked 2 nights at the Opera in Vienna. First night will be "Der Rosenkavalier and second night will be lighter "Land of Smiles". I hope to also organise Operas and/or symphonies in Berlin, Leipzig and Munich.

I have never felt Australian as far as sport is concerned. I do watch the news and do know who is playing and who won, sometimes this is absolutely necessary to carry on a conversation, but I really could not care less.

As a child sport was torture. I have no hand/eye co-ordination and stood there blinking in surprise if I actually caught a ball. This was despite my Grandfather, a primary teacher, spending hours trying to teach me. My father displayed little interest although I know he did play cricket as a youth. He was more interested in tinkering under the car, another area in which I am sadly ignorant. As an asthmatic I could not run to save my life. Fortunately I grew out of that. The one sport in which I could hold my own was swimming and surfing but the result of that was the skin cancers that now have to be regularly treated, thankfully only once has an incipient melanoma appeared. Sport and PE lessons were always the time when I would be teased and mocked, often by the teachers who ignored the fact that I was in the top 10% academically.

In order to graduate as a high school teacher in Geography and Economics I had to do a course in sport, the only subject I failed. However, luckily, I passed the post exam in which they asked the rules of cricket rather than basketball which had been in the main exam. Most of my teaching career involved having to take sport, usually pleasant in summer as I took swimming or lifesaving. Winter usually meant soccer (football) in which I developed some knowledge and even developed some expertise and took grade (only because any sporty teacher in those days took Rugby, things are changing). However I usually talked the teacher from the opposing school into refereeing and one memorable time, the team returned to tell me they had won, only to find me fast asleep. I never understood why all teachers had to take sport but were not expected to take other subjects in which they had no real expertise eg. music or art. More and more schools are now developing integrated sport so this is no longer an imposition on all teachers.

Also the range of sports is increasing. When I went to school, the summer choice for juniors was Cricket or Learn to Swim. I was too proud of my one sporting accomplishment to join the latter although some of my friends did and splashed feebly in week one then improved greatly in week two when it was too late to send them back to cricket. In later years I was saved by joining Lifesaving.

Winter was misery. The choice was Rugby Union or Softball and as I had no wish to be killed on a weekly basis, I went to Softball despite the ridicule heaped on us as we left the assembly. Again as a senior I was allowed to go to tennis in which I was also hopeless (remember absolutely no hand/eye coordination) but I could play with a few mates, who were nearly as hopeless, in a game of "Hit and Giggle".

Today as I said, there is much more choice. Ten Pin Bowling was something I could manage and occasionally even win although when I take students there these days, they seem to spend more time feeding their faces in the cafeteria than exercising their muscles so I am not sure it is a good choice.

The one period in my life in which I took an interest in Rugby (League ) was during the early 70's when I was grappling with my same sex orientation. There was an exciting mateship in going to the weekly fixture then onto the pub with the guys. I became a mad Saints supporter and still have a red white scarf and beanie in the cupboard but obviously that was unfulfilling in the long run.

To get back to where I started, I think I would have felt I belonged more to my culture if I was born in one of the countries of Central Europe. I wish there was a little bit of balance so that Australian musicians (also painters, novelists and scientists) could be idolised as well as our sportsmen and women.

1 comment:

Alcibiades said...

Yes - having the hand-eye co-ordination of a walrus, and the eyesight of a bat, I also found school sport a particularly hideous experience - and was consequently deemed "unAustralian" by the neanderthals of my school's sports department.

Thanks for pointing out the teacher's side of things - to have people of that mindset as your workplace colleagues must be extremely depressing - to say the least!

A friend of ours now lectures in theatre at a UK university - and she is continuously amazed and delighted by the way the arts are taken seriously, and that a succesful sporting career is considered the primary requisite for a career in the media: that the ability to reason, communicate and act are viewed as more important.

Sometimes I think it's just a side effect of our country's youth: as our culture is given time to mature so the popular interests may become a little more cerebral. But then again - other times i just want to move...